An Achilles tendon rupture is when you tear the tissue that connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. Your Achilles tendon is very strong and flexible. It?s at the back of your ankle and connects your calf muscle to the bone in the heel of your foot (calcaneum). If you rupture your Achilles tendon, you can either partially or completely tear the tendon. Most people who injure their Achilles tendon are between 30 and 50 and don?t exercise regularly. It?s more common in men but can affect anyone. It happens most often in the left leg. This may be because most people are right-handed which means that they ?push off? more frequently with the left foot when running.
Often the individual will feel or hear a pop or a snap when the injury occurs. There is immediate swelling and severe pain in the back of the heel, below the calf where it ruptures. Pain is usually severe enough that it is difficult or impossible to walk or take a step. The individual will not be able to push off or go on their toes.
Symptoms include a sudden sharp pain in the achilles tendon which is often described as if being physically struck by an object or implement. A loud snapping noise or bang may also be heard at the time. A gap of 4 to 5 cm in the tendon can be felt which may be less obvious later as swelling increases. After a short while the athlete may be able to walk again but without the power to push off with the foot. There will be a significant loss of strength in the injured leg and the patient will be unable to stand on tip toes. There may be considerable swelling around the achilles tendon and a positive result for Thompson’s test can help confirm the diagnosis.
Some patients mistakenly believe the tendon is working if they can push the foot down, however, patients will usually be able to move the foot up and down while sitting because the other surrounding muscles and tendons are still intact. Trying to push up while standing and applying body weight to the foot will reveal the true weakness. Sensation and circulation to the foot and ankle will be normal. In addition, x-rays will be normal unless the Achilles injury involves pulling off (avulsion) of the bone on the calcaneus (heel bone). This is quite rare, occurring in only a small fraction of patients with Achilles injuries. Patients suffering this type of Achilles avulsion injury tend to be older with weaker bone.
Imaging Studies. Plain x-rays will be negative in patients who have suffered an Achilles tendon rupture. The rupture can be seen on ultrasound or MRI. However, these studies are not indicated for acute ruptures unless there is some uncertainty about the diagnosis. For chronic problems of the Achilles or ruptures that are old, an MRI may be very helpful.
Non Surgical Treatment
As debilitating as they can be, the good news is that minor to moderate Achilles tendon injuries should heal on their own. You just need to give them time. To speed the healing, you can try the following. Rest your leg. Avoid putting weight on your leg as best you can. You may need crutches. Ice your leg. To reduce pain and swelling, ice your injury for 20 to 30 minutes, every three to four hours for two to three days, or until the pain is gone. Compress your leg. Use an elastic bandage around the lower leg and ankle to keep down swelling. Elevate your leg. Prop you leg up on a pillow when you’re sitting or lying down. Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs have side effects, such as an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally unless your health care provider says otherwise and should be taken with food. Check with your doctor before taking these if you have any allergies, medical problems or take any other medication. Use a heel lift. Your health care provider may recommend that you wear an insert in your shoe while you recover. It will help protect your Achilles tendon from further stretching. Practice stretching and strengthening exercises as recommended by your health care provider. Usually, these techniques will do the trick. But in severe cases of Achilles tendon injury, you may need a cast for six to 10 weeks or even surgery to repair the tendon or remove excess tissue.
There are two different types of surgeries; open surgery and percutaneous surgery. During an open surgery an incision is made in the back of the leg and the Achilles tendon is stitched together. In a complete or serious rupture the tendon of plantaris or another vestigial muscle is harvested and wrapped around the Achilles tendon, increasing the strength of the repaired tendon. If the tissue quality is poor, e.g. the injury has been neglected, the surgeon might use a reinforcement mesh (collagen, Artelon or other degradable material). In percutaneous surgery, the surgeon makes several small incisions, rather than one large incision, and sews the tendon back together through the incision(s). Surgery may be delayed for about a week after the rupture to let the swelling go down. For sedentary patients and those who have vasculopathy or risks for poor healing, percutaneous surgical repair may be a better treatment choice than open surgical repair.
Good flexibility of the calf muscles plays an essential role in the prevention of Achilles tendon injuries. It is also important to include balance and stability work as part of the training programme. This should include work for the deep-seated abdominal muscles and for the muscles that control the hip. This might at first appear odd, given the fact that the Achilles are a good distance from these areas, but developing strength and control in this area (core stability) can boost control at the knee and ankle joints. Training errors should be avoided. The volume, intensity and frequency of training should be monitored carefully, and gradually progressed, particularly when introducing new modes of training to the programme. Abrupt changes in training load are the primary cause of Achilles tendinopathy.
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